Understanding Anxiety Disorders

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Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion that everyone encounters from time to time. You may feel anxious when experiencing stress or a perceived threat. Intense anxiety that becomes excessive, chronic or interferes with your daily life may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: This includes persistent and excessive worry about a wide range of everyday concerns.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This fear is consuming, because you may feel judged or scrutinized by others in a social situation, causing you to avoid people and activities.
  • Panic disorder: A panic attack is a sudden reaction of intense fear when there is no real or immediate danger. Many people have had one or two attacks in their lifetime. If you’ve had recurrent fears or unexplained attacks, you may have a panic disorder.
  • Phobias:  If you experience intense, excessive fear of specific objects or situations that pose little to no danger, this type of anxiety disorder can interfere with your relationships at home and work. Phobias generally affect women more than men and are treatable.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: This involves a pattern of unwanted and repeated thoughts and fears that lead you to do repetitive behaviors or mental acts. It can interfere with daily activities and cause a lot of stress.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: This occurs after exposure to a traumatic event and involves symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety. If your symptoms get worse or last for years, you may have PTSD and should talk with a professional. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder has all the characteristics of PTSD, but symptoms can be more severe and more frequent.

Managing Anxiety for Enhanced Mental Health

If you are contemplating harming yourself or others or are having suicidal thoughts, call 911 immediately. Norton Healthcare has six emergency locations, including three for children and young adults.

If your condition is not life-threatening, visiting with a primary care provider is a good next step.

Our primary care providers coordinate with Norton Behavioral Medicine to offer treatment for mental disorders such as anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and other behavioral health concerns. This partnership is crucial as it provides your healthcare team with your full picture of health both physically and mentally, because physical symptoms can be sourced in mental health concerns and vice versa. Norton Behavioral Medicine providers offer a range of mental illness treatments without the need for an extended schedule of appointments. We’ll start you on talk therapy, medicine or other treatments and return you to the regular care of your primary care provider when you’re ready.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by anxious feelings about a wide range of issues rather than one specific event. The symptoms are typically long-term and can include:

  • Feeling irritable and easily becoming fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or moments of your mind going blank
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tense muscles
  • Uncontrollable worry and distress
  • Worry that affects your day-to-day life and responsibilities
  • An inability to let go of worries
  • A broad range of worry such as work, health and seemingly minor issues

Anxiety is typically the result of your body reacting to a perceived threat and triggering the “fight or flight” response. This is a response that helps us when facing genuine danger, but when the response it triggered without such a significant cause, the instinct to defend yourself or run away from threats can take the form of anxiety or a panic attack.

Physical symptoms of anxiety disorders can include headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, trembling, abdominal pain and chest pain. Acute anxiety in particular can be so powerful you may feel like you are having a heart attack.

Don’t dismiss symptoms. If you have heart attack symptoms, call 911 for emergency care.

Coping Techniques

Untreated anxiety disorders can increase your risks of experiencing a heart attack, and that’s why it’s important to practice coping techniques to reduce your stress and anxiety.

Coping mechanisms:

  • Deep breathing
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Reframing your thoughts
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Physical activities such as sports or going for a walk
  • Healthy lifestyle choices such as a balanced diet and getting adequate sleep
  • Time management such as organizing tasks and priorities
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • Taking care of yourself and paying attention to your needs

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Self-help techniques can reduce anxious feelings. It’s important to remember that anxiety disorders are treatable, and early medical intervention can be very effective managing your anxiety symptoms and improving your quality of life.

Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry, fear or nervousness that can interfere with your ability to function and lead a fulfilling life. Your primary care provider is a good place to start if you have anxiety symptoms. If appropriate, your provider can refer you to a mental health professional.

Several factors can increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Risk factors:

  • Brain chemistry
  • Childhood adversity
  • Medical conditions, such as stroke
  • Genetics
  • Personality factors
  • Substance use
  • Trauma

Seeking help for anxiety is a step toward a healthier, happier life. Remember, our health care professionals are here to support and guide you. You are not alone, and there is hope for reducing your stress levels and anxiety.

Diagnosis includes:

  • Clinical assessment
  • Diagnostic criteria
  • Psychological tests
  • Physical exam
  • Observation and interviews with you and potentially with family members

Norton Now: Care When You Need It

  • Get medical care when and where it works for you.
    • Norton Community Medical Associates primary care is your medical home. More than 35 locations across the Louisville area and Southern Indiana means there’s an office close to home, work or school. Your primary care physician knows you and your health and performs annual checkups to stay ahead of any emerging conditions. Our doctors and nurse practitioners connect you to the full Norton Healthcare system, giving you and your family easy access to the area’s leading specialty physicians.
    • More than 15 Norton Immediate Care Centers offer treatment for minor illnesses and injuries. Reserve your spot in line and we’ll text you when it’s time to check in. All Norton Immediate Care Centers are equipped with X-ray machines.
    • Norton Prompt Care clinics have same-day appointments available when you need care for yourself or your family. All locations offer extended weekday and weekend hours. Many are located within Walgreens stores.
    • Norton eCare allows you to visit with a provider via secure video or by simply answering questions online about your symptoms.
    • Emergency care is available for a very serious illness or injury that puts your life in danger. Get treatment 24/7 at nine locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana, including three locations for kids.
  • Medicaid, Medicare and most major commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Get test results, renew prescriptions, communicate with your health care provider, get notified if an earlier appointment becomes available and more with your free Norton MyChart account.

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